You must admit it there are times when Jesus says something that really gets our attention. Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will not have life within you was one of those attention grabbing statements. What followed that statement in the scriptures was some of his followers said it was too hard to take and they walked away. Today we have another statement from Jesus that we find is hard to take seriously. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your foot causes it to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. The hard part for us to grasp is he does mean for us to literally do what he is saying.
Think about all the passages in scripture which are hard to take, and you will quickly conclude Jesus is not kidding when it comes to rooting our sin in our lives. He literally told us that in the first part of this reading when he said it is better if a millstone was put around the neck of anyone who causes a believer to sin. So, if Jesus is not using hyperbole or testing our response exactly how does Jesus expect us to respond to taking action against the sins we commit over and over again.
What does God expect of us who by word and deed declare ourselves to believe and through our attendance in church attempt to live a life that reflects our faith in God? It should not surprise us to know everything expected of us is in the scriptures and in the teaching of our church. When Jesus tells us to be holier than the Pharisees he was telling us not to be like them using their strict adherence to the law and religious piety as a smoke screen for the sin lurking in their hearts. We cannot come to church then go out into the world and satisfy our sinful desires in secret or in view of others. Jesus is not telling to resist temptation, instead he is telling us to be ruthless in removing the temptation.
How often since our childhood have we been told to avoid the near occasion of sin? Jesus is emphasizing the only way to avoid sin is to remove the cause of that sin. It is better for us to surrender our access to web sites that cause us to sin, movies or tv programs with explicit sex, violence, drug use. It is better for us never to enter a casino or a bar that preys on our weakness to gamble or drink.
Remember when Jesus told us “if we look at a woman with lust we have committed adultery in our hearts.” To cut off a hand or a foot or to pluck out an eye which causes us to sin is another way of saying we must understand all sin separates us from God. Big sins, little sins, sins of a willful desire and sins of our weak flesh motivated by a desire we cannot seem to get under control. Jesus is giving us a way to control the things that cause us to sin by telling us to make sure we do not access those places, those people or those devices.
We know from scripture that ‘we are to be holy as he is holy”; we know from scripture that “God desires our “hearts not our sacrifice”; we know from scripture “it is what comes from within us, that which flows from our hearts is what makes us unclean.” We also know from scripture that we are “to love God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds and our neighbor as ourselves.”
With those desires of God for us in mind does it not follow that all we do should glorify God?
It makes a difference if we can look at ourselves as God desires us to be not how we feel we should be as Christians. God desires us to be witnesses and disciples who conform to the image of his Son (Rom, 8:29). How does our desire line up with God’s desire for us? All too often we only desire a comfortable faith that allows us to feel good about ourselves and when we fail we know we can receive forgiveness and start all over again.
God does not tire of extending forgiveness to us but at the same time he expects us to allow his forgiveness to change us as it did the prodigal son, the woman at the well and the many others he encounters in the scriptures.
Perhaps our problem with our weak approach to eliminate sin is because we have never allowed ourselves to have an encounter with God that changes us and our hearts. Christ has told us apart from him we can do nothing, and we have lived our lives trying by our own will power to overcome our weaknesses. If we invite Jesus into our lives, he has promised to pour the spirit into us and change our hearts. It is by following Jesus’ plan for our holiness we become disciples who live the gospel message daily.
What we are offered to overcome sin is a new life empowered by the Holy Spirit and the embrace of a loving God who will change our desire to stop living life on our terms. Once that happens we find we like the prodigal have come to our senses and start our journey to the heart of God.
Jesus does not soften his words for a reason, we need to be awakened to our failure to respond to his call and our failure to understand how serious it is for us to claim we believe in One God.